By NATHAN SOLIS
Luis Rincon is surrounded by upturned mounds of earth. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the scene, with views of downtown skyscrapers and warehouses, but this is a state park – Los Angeles State Historic Park just across the river from Lincoln Heights. During the past year, this 32-acre swath of land has looked more like a construction than a state park as it undergoes an extensive renovation. But as a Park Interpretive Specialist, Rincon, 36, is in tune with the land, with the native plant life and he’s overjoyed at the renovation to the 32 acre park on the north side of Chinatown.
As a boy growing up in El Sereno a few miles from where he now works, wildlife seemed exotic to Rincon. He loved the outdoors and fishing with his father. Thanks to career programs in high school, Rincon worked in the Western Sierras clearing trails and deepened his love with the outdoors. When it came time to go to college, he headed to Humboldt State in Northern California, where he found himself living away from Los Angeles for the first time and receiving a dose of culture shock.
Now, Rincon has returned home, giving tours of urban wetlands and riverside parks not far from where he grew up and introducing a whole new generation to the great outdoors that can be found in the middle of Los Angeles.
“We want to reach the urban audience, to engage people and show them that open space is important.”
What is your connection to the area that you’re serving as a Park Interpretive Specialist?
The story is layered. When I first reported in at the outreach office at El Pueblo it was a full circle for me. I’m supposed to be here, I thought. My great grandparents had a puesto at Olvera Street and my dad worked there. Then my siblings and I worked there. Now to go back to L.A.’s historic core with the Park’s Department is full circle.
What type of role do you play here in a park in the middle of the city?
I’m here and [go] out to schools, to after-school nature programs and reach out to the underrepresented groups – like the children in the projects, the other locals who might be afraid of what parks typically represent – and then I get to connect people with their park. Here, I am someone in a uniform who will relate to them, in English or Spanish, over this vast public facility. We want to reach the urban audience, to engage people and show them that open space is important, because sometimes it’s in the background and doesn’t seem vital to them. But it’s the most vital, most important part of the community.
How have the renovations impacted your job?
I’ve used it as an opportunity to engage other parks. We’ve created a native plant garden at a partnership park. And then we had a camping event on the L.A. River. One of my last presentations was to MASA … they’re a mental health organization and they target the Mexican-American community. The use of open space was the focus … emphasizing that outdoor recreation has a therapeutic quality beneficial to their client’s needs.
How important a role do you think open spaces play in L.A.’s future?
I think it’s critical. People need to recreate. Our connection to the outdoors and our need to connect is part of the human development. It’s vital that these open spaces remain… well open and people remain engaged.
What’s the goal of your efforts?
The ultimate goal is to create a stewardship with these open spaces, where people are informed about their environment and feel a need to tend and care for them. That’s something we need to pass on to future generations – a sense of responsibility in conserving water, not dumping our trash.
Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.